Monday, July 21, 2014

An Overpayment Notice - get help!

Occasionally, people come to me very worried because they got a letter saying they were paid too much by Social Security.  This is  called an “Overpayment Notice.”

It is nearly impossible to find a lawyer to help in these situations.  First, check around to see if there is a Legal Aid office that does this kind of work.  Failing that, you will either need to find someone willing to work for chocolate, call your Congressman (seriously, see #3) or go it alone.  When I was at Legal Aid (not in California), a happy client once brought two hot, freshly made Lemon Meringue pies.  Yes, there can be more to life than money.

There are ways to resolve these things.  You can make a payment arrangement that will fit your budget and not cause you hardship.  You can challenge whether their conclusion that there is an Overpayment is correct. You can appeal the whole thing to a Judge.  Or, you can just give up.

If you can’t find a Legal Aid Office, or someone who will work for pie, here are some things you might consider:
1.  Check the Social Security Website to get as much information as possible.  has one of the best search engines there is. In the upper right hand corner is a search box.  Type in a word or a question and chances are very good you will find what you need in easy to understand language.
2.  Call the National Call Center 1-800-772-1213 (beware of the hold music).
3.  Call your Congressman’s Office or send an email from their website.  People do not realize that your Congressman is willing, and more than able, to help.  Most have a special staff person whose job it is to help with Social Security payment problems. You may not realize this, but we vote for these people to help us. All of the staff I’ve spoken to are very nice, caring people who do return calls and respond to emails, letters and faxes promptly; they make an inquiry and the Social Security Agency will call them back.
4.  There are some homeless shelters and other non-profit agencies who may have someone who can help.  Mission Solano and Community Action-NorthBay (CAN-B) are two places you might start in Solano County California if you can’t find a Legal Aid Office.
5.  If you go into the field office, take someone with you.  Two heads are better than one. Take notes. Don’t make a snap decision. Write down the name of the person with whom you speak and the date/time you met with them,
Social Security lingo is hard to understand.  The Counter worker or Claims Rep will try their best in the language they know to explain it to you.  Unfortunately, some people are better at explaining this stuff in easy to understand language than others.
I have never seen a Social Security Rep intentionally mislead anyone or give anything other than their best effort about anything.
But realize, they are not there to be you advocate or give you any advice about what option you should pick.  They will tell you your choices and give you the forms. Then, you’re on your own. They aren’t Social Workers.  They’re more like bank tellers.  If you want money management advice, you go to the banker, not the teller.
6.  When you are speaking to someone at the Field Office, write down their name and the date and time of your conversation.  If you are convinced the person with whom you are speaking does not understand you, ask for an appointment with a specialist or supervisor – politely, of course.  Go up to the supervisor’s supervisor, always politely.
But do realize that even the supervisor is not your advocate.  All they can do – indeed all they should be doing – is telling you what your options are and giving you the right forms and instructions.
And see #3 above.  The Social Security Agency will respond to a Congressional inquiry.


As always, none of this is legal advice and I am under no obligation to help you. It is based on my personal experience over the past decade or so.

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